updated 7/9/2004 1:38:32 PM ET 2004-07-09T17:38:32

A fourth patient died of rabies after receiving a transplant from an infected donor, health officials confirmed Thursday.

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While the first three victims received organs from an Arkansas man who had the disease, the fourth victim received one of the man’s arteries, officials at Baylor University Medical Center said.

The investigation of the deaths by the hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced the first three victims through organ donation records.

The fourth death was not confirmed until Thursday because the hospital had no tracking system tracing the artery donation.

“There’s no master file or database that that information would subsequently be entered into,” Baylor transplant surgeon Henry Randall said.

All four victims died within the same time frame in June.

More infections unlikely
Officials said the fourth victim was listed as the recipient of a liver from another donor, and was not immediately connected with the rabies case. Neurological problems leading to the patient’s death, however, were similar to those of the other victims.

The lungs, kidneys and liver of the infected donor who died in May were donated to patients from Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama. Three of them died of rabies; the patient in Alabama died of complications in surgery.

The donor had shown no symptoms of rabies before his death from a brain hemorrhage, the CDC said.

William Sutker, chief of the department of infectious diseases at Baylor, said doctors did not initially diagnose rabies in any of the cases, instead suspecting encephalitis or meningitis.

“Rabies was not something that anybody could have, or would have, thought of,” Sutker said.

The three deaths are the first documented cases of rabies being spread through organ transplants, the government said.

Officials were still conducting tests but said the chance of more infections was unlikely.

“All the tissue from this donor has been either used or destroyed,” Sutker said.

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